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The time is now for Knicks

Doc Rivers offered a somber admission in the wake of Boston's Game 7 loss Thursday night to the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

"We're not going to be the same team next year," he said in his opening statement to the media.

The valiant defeat likely marks the end of the shortest championship era in Celtics history. Ray Allen will be a free agent with plenty of options and, perhaps, some motivation to get away from Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce. Kevin Garnett isn't the superstar he once was. Pierce has an opt-out and will be a free agent next summer.

And Doc, himself, may even step away from the bench to focus on being a Dad and enjoying the athletic achievements of his own children rather than having to be the paternal influence on an ornery group of grown men.

There will be changes. This will be a different group. They'll still be a factor, for sure, but they're clearly in the freefall after a quick ascension in 2007-08.

And that's what makes this summer so critical for the Knicks.

This is the time to strike. Never mind battling for a playoff berth in the East, with the right moves, the Atlantic Division could be up for grabs. The Celtics will endure changes, the Raptors are on the verge of losing Chris Bosh, the 76ers will have a lottery pick (Evan Turner) and a new coach (Doug Collins), but they still have improvements to make. The Nets should be better, no question about it, but unless LeBron James chooses the two-year Newark plan, they aren't overwhelming.

It's Donnie Walsh's job to make the Knicks overwhelming. It does little good to settle on mediocre right now. By doing that, you give the Sixers a chance to develop. You allow the Nets to get one season closer to Brooklyn. You give Danny Ainge time to re-tool the Celtics with Rondo, still one of the most dynamic guards in the league (despite his perimeter issues) as the centerpiece.

Instead, go for the jugular. LeBron James may be the main target, but Ray Allen should get a great deal of attention right at the start of free agency. Pay less attention to Ray's 39 percent shooting in the NBA Finals and focus more on the fact that he was the main cog in the defense against Kobe Bryant. That kind of effort can take a lot out of your legs and Allen's shot certainly looked flat (a sign of dead legs) for most of this series.

But Ray Allen proved one thing: at 35, he's still in tremendous shape and he obviously can defend. Put Ray Allen with a player like LeBron and you give him not only a strong defender and a seasoned pro with a ring, you give him a deadly outlet when double-teams come. Yes, it does cut into the money you would need to get that second max player, so that has to be considered. But after watching Ray Allen in this playoff run, especially his defense in the Finals, you see exactly the element the Knicks desperately need.

The way these Finals played out couldn't be better for the free agency season. Kobe's fifth ring, the fact that he couldn't do it in Game 7 without major step-ups by his supporting cast -- Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Derek Fisher and Co. -- and just how epic the series was, you have to think these title-hungry stars like LeBron, Bosh, Amar'e, Joe Johnson and even D-Wade, who has one already, felt a stronger desire to want more . . .

New York Sports